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Teens learn lesson in life

The volunteers skip the beach and spend the summer helping others.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000

Jomari Perez said if she were not volunteering for the High Point YMCA in Clearwater, she might be getting into hot water with her friends.

"Volunteering helps you stay away from trouble and helps you in life," Perez, 14, of Clearwater said.

Perez has been surveying local businesses and organizations about the type of services they offer young people. Whether it's finding out about scholarship money or a cool recreation program, Perez and her fellow youth mapping volunteers say they are doing important work -- although they're not being paid a dime for it.

Perez likes it that way.

The freshman at Pinellas Park High School is just one example of how teenagers are helping others instead of using their summer to sleep late or lie on the beach.

Rachel Bywalec, 17, of Palm Harbor volunteers at the Hospice of Florida Suncoast in Largo. Her work involves cleaning, feeding patients and holding babies.

Like many high school students, Bywalec gets academic credit for her work. She continues to volunteer, although she met the volunteer requirements for the International Baccalaureate program at Palm Harbor University High.

"It has become more of a hobby," she said. "I continue to do my part because I like it so much."

Working with hospice patients has taught Bywalec history in a wonderful, firsthand way.

"We have the most fun; we learn so much," she said. "Some of them talk about the '20s like it was yesterday."

Franka Co, 15, of St. Petersburg volunteers at the Pinellas Center for the Visually Impaired in Largo. She assists blind and visually impaired children ages 11 to 14. She enjoys knowing her work has helped children develop higher self-esteem.

"Sometimes they think they're worthless," she said. "I show them they can do what others can do and prove to other people that they can be independent."

If she weren't volunteering, Co would work at her mother's sewing shop or as a cashier at her father's restaurant.

"I prefer volunteering than helping my parents," she said. "I actually enjoy what I am doing."

Laundry, dishwashing and dusting are some of the things Tina Perry, 16, of St. Petersburg does at the Ronald McDonald house in St. Petersburg.

"I do little stuff but it helps a lot of people," Perry said.

Perry thinks more teenagers should volunteer because it makes one appreciate the blessings of life.

"It gives you a better outlook on what the world is really like," she said. "Life isn't all video games and movies. People have hardships that a lot of kids just don't understand."

In addition to the local teenagers volunteering in Pinellas County, last week teenagers from across the country traveled to Clearwater to fix up houses. World Changers, a Baptist organization based in Georgia, dispatched 314 volunteers into Clearwater's North and South Greenwood neighborhoods. Among other things, the teenagers installed windows, repaired roofs and painted 23 homes.

Layne Ballard, 16, of Montgomery, Ala., is a World Changer. Her belief in God motivates her desire to volunteer.

"I felt the need to serve God and try to minister to other people," Ballard said.

She said the experience, her first with World Changers, has been great.

"I love Clearwater," she said. "It's beautiful -- it's been real nice. Everybody seems to be happy that we came."

Sally Bruynell believes in volunteering. She has volunteered for various organizations for the past 10 years. One of her most demanding volunteer jobs is as a Volunteer Team Leader at the Highpoint YMCA in Largo. In 1995 she won the Pinellas County Outstanding School Volunteer Award for north Pinellas.

She said children should start volunteering in elementary school because it teaches valuable social skills.

"If you teach them at an early age to give a part of themselves, they learn not to be selfish. They learn to be caring, and it builds their self-esteem," Bruynell said. Children who volunteer tend to be well-rounded because they get to meet people of varying social and economic backgrounds.

With school restarting soon, some students will stop volunteering. Some will have met their school requirements, while others would rather spend their time in other ways.

Still, there are volunteers like Bywalec who offer their services throughout the year.

"Once kids get their hours, they stop," Bywalec said. "They are not getting the true spirit of volunteering."

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